Eye Blinks Reveal If People Are Interacting Meaningfully, Study Finds

Science News

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, The Netherlands, explored how eye blinks are important communicative signals in interactive face-to-face communication. The study is published in PLOS ONE.

The Study

The researchers invited 35 native Dutch speakers for a sixty-minute experiment. The participants had to interact with three different virtual avatars on a computer screen. The nodding and eye blinking of the virtual avatars were selectively manipulated with Virtual Reality technology. During each of the conversations, how the participants reacted to the avatars’ facial cues and communicative signals were observed.

After the experiment, the participants had to fill out two questionnaires. The first one was the Empathy Quotient questionnaire and the second one assessed their explicit awareness of the different feedback types, such as nodding and eye blinking.

The Findings

The results showed that the speakers were sensitive to the listeners’ eye blinking during face-to-face communication. In fact, the temporal length of participants’ answers depended on the length of eye blinks and nodding.

Specifically, long nods with longer eye blinks indicated greater social sensitivity and understanding and more meaningful interaction. On the other hand, short nods with shorter eye blinks were linked to shallow small talk.

The researchers further elaborated that this registration of facial cues is an activity of our empathy-driven “social brain”. Because of this, the brains of high-empathizers (in comparison to low-empathizers) are found to be more responsive to eye blinks in face-to-face interaction.

To Know More You May Refer To

Hömke, P., Holler, J., & Levinson, S. C. (2018). Eye blinks are perceived as communicative signals in human face-to-face interaction. PloS one, 13(12), e0208030. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0208030

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  • Eye Blinks Reveal If People Are Interacting Meaningfully, Study Finds